Jillian Miller knows she’s not ready for a gallery, but she wants to get her name out. So the Scottsdale jewelry artist recently approached Inza Coffee to show her art, and hopefully catch the eye of buyers.
Miller is one of many artists who see art galleries as too competitive so they are turning to coffee shops to display their work. The result is a coffee shop/art gallery hybrid — a coffee gallery.
“There are only so many galleries that give new artists a chance,” said Mirla Raz, a Scottsdale-based art dealer and broker who helps artists find places to show their work. “In galleries, it is so hard.”
Inza has shown art on its walls and hosted many shows since it opened in March, said co-owner Linda Gomez. As an artist herself, Gomez said she knows the struggle to get ahead.
“In Colombia, if you say you want to be an artist, people say you’re going to be poor all your life,” she said.
Miller’s jewelry, which she makes out of desert plant pods, will be on display Nov. 24.
“Some of my stuff is pretty funky, and maybe it could be framed,” she said. “I don’t care how I sell it.”
Scottsdale Community College art professor Robert You said a lot of artists start with coffee shops, and he has seen his students branch out to bookstores, wineries and furniture stores.
“The funny thing about art is it’s like a snowball,” he said. “You’ve got to start somewhere. If you have one show, people see your work, then they want to show your work, and you keep going bigger and bigger.”
Smaller venues also can provide experience in how to arrange an exhibition, set prices and look professional, You said.
“I try to push them to go out there and force them to get rid of that fear,” he added.
One of Inza’s painting was sold to a customer who stops by the shop for coffee every morning.
“I asked him why he never bought it before, and he said, ‘It took time to grow on me,’” Gomez said.
Most people don’t go out for coffee expecting to buy art, but it’s a natural connection, Raz said.
“It’s a good place to go and relax, and see what the art would be like to live with, versus going into a gallery and looking and leaving. Here, you can sit, contemplate, make a decision and be very happy,” Raz said.
Scottsdale artist John Foltz hadn’t been painting for long before he saw an opportunity to show his art.
“I was going into Starbucks, and I saw these big open blank walls,” he said. “It was an opportunity for me to say, ‘I can do that.’ I just asked.”
Since then, Foltz has joined with the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf coffee shops, and displays his work in nine stores Valleywide.
Still, he said, there are challenges.
“It does more for them than it does for me,” he said. “I’m helping the store so that instead of a poster with a frappuccino picture on it, it’s actually an original work of art from a local artist. People don’t realize that.”
Kraig Foote, president of Scottsdale’s Art One Gallery, agreed that coffee shop art is not taken seriously.
“We don’t let any of our artists show in coffee houses or restaurants,” he said. “We want people to look at it as artwork.”
Another drawback to coffee galleries is that most employees know nothing about the artists, unlike gallery employees, Foote said.
“Our job is to educate clients and the general public about each artist, and the technique and mediums they use,” he said.
A better way to sell work is to learn how to approach galleries the right way, Foote said.
“If you found a gallery you really liked, and truly felt like you fit in there, there shouldn’t be any embarrassment about dropping off a disk, and saying you would like to submit work,” he said. “You would be surprised.”